Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

No-No: Non-Profits Donate to the Party

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

No-No: Non-Profits Donate to the Party

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- A South Georgia jail, the Atlanta zoo and a

state-built agriculture museum are among the unlikely

benefactors showing up as donors to the Georgia Democratic

Party.

Hundreds of dollars from public or quasi-public agencies was

spent on tickets to last year's gala Democratic fund-raising

banquet, disclosure forms filed with the Secretary of State

show.

The Internal Revenue Service says such political expenditures

violate federal tax laws, and an organization found knowingly

breaking them could lose its tax-exempt status.

In the case of Zoo Atlanta, a spokeswoman said executives were

told attendance at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner was required

for the zoo to obtain a state grant.

The zoo received $2.5 million from the legislature in last

year's budget. The dinner is held during the General Assembly

session for the convenience of legislators and those who lobby

them, and most of the Statehouse's top Democrats attend.

Zoo Atlanta spent $450 to send three officials to the Feb. 27,

1995, fund-raising event, Democratic Party records show. Records

from this year's dinner will not be filed until 1997.

"They had to be there, because that was one of the meetings

that led to us getting a large gift from the state. They were

requested to be there, and they went," said Carol Flamer, Zoo

Atlanta spokeswoman, who did not name the attendees.

She did not say who requested the presence of the zoo

officials, and the zoo's director, Terry Maple, could not be

reached for comment.

Bill Florence of the Georgia Democratic Party said that tickets

are frequently sold with the appeal that "a lot of legislators

will be there and it might be helpful for you to be seen there."

But he said he could not imagine anyone drawing a direct link

between receiving state money and attending a party fund-raiser.

"I would be shocked if anything like that occurred," Florence

said, adding that zoo officials may simply have misunderstood a

sales pitch.

The black-tie dinner was held at Atlanta's Georgia World

Congress Center, with U.S. Sen. John Breaux, DLa., as the guest

of honor. Party officials sold 2,200 tickets to the event and

raised a then-record $400,000, some of it from donations in

excess of the $150 ticket price.

Among the ticket-buyers -- unknowingly -- were inmates at the

Early County Jail in Southwest Georgia.

Sheriff Jimmie Murkerson used a jail commissary account to buy

a $150 ticket for the then-chairman of the county's Democratic

Party to attend the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, with the

understanding the money would be repaid. The commissary fund

gets money from fines paid to rescue impounded vehicles after

traffic stops, and from sales of candy bars and sodas to

prisoners. …

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